BALLSTON SPA – About 100 people attended an informational Village Board meeting Monday to discuss pollution likely to be coming from the closed Rickett’s Laundry and Dry Cleaners on Route 50 on the north side of the village.
Don Graham, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA is seeking permission from about 60 people to test the air quality in their homes to see if it has been polluted by tainted groundwater coming from the Rickett’s site. Most of the houses are downhill from Rickett’s, on the opposite, eastern side of Route 50, from Union Street to North High Street to Saratoga Avenue and Ralph Street.
The potentially affected area includes the Aldi’s supermarket, but Graham told the Journal later that he does not think there is any possibility of the food there being tainted. Aldi’s has been notified of the problem by Graham and Mayor John Romano, and the EPA expects to get permission to test for air quality there.
According to a “community update” compiled by the EPA, in August 2016 the federal agency found several known or suspected human carcinogens in the air at the Rickett’s site, and suspects that they are also in groundwater flowing from there in a southeast direction across Route 50. “Although the groundwater in this area is not used for drinking,” the document says, “the EPA will be evaluating homes in this area for potential ‘vapor intrusion’ impacts.”
Ballston Spa gets its drinking water from wells north of the village in the town of Milton, on Rowland Street across from the Hannaford supermarket. But even though residents in the target area are not drinking polluted water, the air inside their houses may be tainted by groundwater through the vapor intrusion process. If that is the case, the EPA will pay to fix the problem by installing a system like those commonly used to extract radon gas from houses and dissipate it into the outside air. If the testing finds the possibility that the pollution extends beyond the target area, Graham said, more houses will be tested.
Nick Mazziotta, a human health risk assessor for the EPA, said after the meeting that the pollution levels inside Rickett’s, which has been closed since 2013, were about three times safe benchmarks for commercial properties (which have higher benchmark levels than residential properties). The pollutants found were chloroform, TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, benzene, and naphthalene.
Mayor John Romano said he was informed of the problem on Dec. 20 by the Saratoga County attorney. After the meeting, Graham said the county first contacted the EPA in May or June, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation was then involved in discussions with the county and the EPA. A DEC official confirmed that timeline to the Journal.
But county officials were apparently aware of environmental problems at the site in 2015. According to the Feb. 1, 2016, minutes of a meeting of the Equalization and Assessment Committee of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Stephen M. Dorsey “said on the list of county foreclosures this year was the Ricketts Dry Cleaning parcel in Ballston Spa. He said there are three parcels in total. The county did take possession of one of the parcels and will be selling it at the county auction. He said there was a contract to sell the property last year but the deal fell through because environmental contamination was found within the building and the cleanup was going to be too expensive for the purchaser.”
The minutes were provided to the Journal after Monday’s meeting by a source who asked not to be identified.
The meeting was held at the Elks lodge instead of Village Hall, so that the crowd could be accommodated.
Graham said it had not yet been decided whether the federal or state governments would be responsible for cleaning up the Rickett’s site, if and when that is undertaken. Romano said he will be pressing elected officials to make sure the site is cleaned up.
Graham acknowledged the groundwater might be polluting the Kayaderosseras Creek. He said Rickett’s was a substantial operation, at one time employing 60 people, that was in business for many years. But he said dry cleaners all over the country have had similar pollution issues.
Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza and Councilwoman Barbara Kerr were among those attending the meeting, along with representatives for state Sen. James Tedisco and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.
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